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OPPOSING VIEW That’s a better way than marginal air strikes. It also could prevent future conflicts.

17 February 1998

By F. Andy Messing, Jr.

Dragging out this confrontation with Iraq with a marginally effective air campaign will only increase the determination and desperation of Saddam Hussein. Many conflicts are personally driven, and to remove this unstable and malevolent factor – in this case, getting rid one or another of Saddam himself – means a possible return to normalcy.

This is the classic "if Hitler had been taken out in 1941" argument, except this time with biological, chemical and nuclear weapons thrown in.

Since 1990, there have been contingency plans to launch a commando-type raid to either snatch or take out Saddam, effectively cutting off the head of the snake.

Theoretically, a combined air element, led by AC-130 gunships, would neutralize an area for an assault. Then a combined group of Delta Force, Rangers, Special Forces, and Air Commandos would complete the mission. The thinking behind not making such a move in 1990-91 was that a leadership void in Baghdad could swing the Persian Gulf balance of power in favor of an increasingly belligerent Iran.

And then there was reference to both the 1970s amendment by the late Senator Frank Church, D-Idaho, and current executive orders against assassinations, which are not now relevant in this potential "world war" scenario, as political switch-hitter and Russian President Boris Yeltsin describes the current situation with Iraq.

Over the past six years, the patience of the United Nations has been strained regarding Iraq’s Saddam regime. This has prompted a re-examination of options to prevent a dynamic rupture in world stability under the circumstances.

That is why the United States must be prepared for unilateral actions, even though joint actions are preferred, to actually move toward peace and ensure our own safety. Accordingly, failing success in dialogue, figuring out appropriate levels of force is important.

Our Special Operations Forces, combined with our intelligence systems, have never been better.

The mere threat of a serious commando mission to disrupt Iraq’s command and control would gain Saddam’s attention. This, in turn, could trigger more positive diplomatic efforts.

Failing that, "special operations" could reduce the extensive collateral damage to Iraq’s civilian population that would occur with an air campaign, yet still remove hostile leadership elements. This also would erode the arguments of our temporary pseudoallies in the region, whose Muslim culture impacts on the equation.

Now, with Iraq poised to use biological, chemical and perhaps even nuclear weapons of mass destruction, the U.S.-led U.N. coalition’s use of cruise missiles, pilot-guided "smart bombs," and even rumored first-generation space weapons will prove to be an ineffectual measure which could make things worse.

Taking firm action in Iraq now could prevent similar confrontations in the future.


F. Andy Messing Jr., a retired special forces major, is executive director of the Alexandria, Va. Based National Defense Council Foundation (www.ndcf.org).